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Pembertons Cleaning & Restoration Supplies Online Store

© 2000-2014 L. Pemberton

Jim Pemberton

"I have silk upholstery, can you clean it?"

How would you reply to that question from a prospective customer? Most cleaners feel a moment of uncertainty or even dread when they think of cleaning what they perceive to be a delicate fiber like silk. You might be surprised to know that silk is actually a rather durable fiber that cleans up well as long as you understand some of its limitations and show reasonable care in the cleaning process.

Silk is a protein fiber, and therefore shares a number of similarities with the more commonly known protein fiber, wool. Silk acts like wool during a burn test; it smells like burning hair and will rarely support combustion once the test flame is removed. You will rarely need to test for silk, as most customers who have invested in silk will know what they paid for and inform you accordingly!

Some cleaning related characteristics of silk are:


Silk isn't quite as absorbent as wool; nevertheless it does absorb enough moisture and liquid spills to make spotting challenging and drying time after cleaning slower than synthetic fibers.


Like wool, silk is dissolved by chlorine bleach and harmed by high alkaline cleaning agents. If the fabric is not sensitive to water based solutions, be certain to keep the pH range between 5.5 and 8, just as you would with wool fabrics.

Silk has an additional chemical sensitivity that you should be aware of. Silk is both discolored and weakened by salt. Perspiration contains enough salt to yellow the fabric permanently and eventually cause it to split. If you agitate the fabric in heavily soiled areas you may cause this weakened fabric to tear or split. And you may be held liable for the damage!


Many silk fabrics are treated with sizing to give them "body" and to aid in the manufacturing process. If these sizings are water soluble, the fabric may show water marks after cleaning that could be difficult, if not impossible to remove. Spills, especially from alcoholic beverages, may also leave permanent water marks.

If you detect the presence of water soluble sizing, it is better to dry clean the fabric.

 Use the following procedures to clean silk fabrics:

    Test fabrics for colorfastness and water soluble sizing. If there is any doubt, dry clean the fabric. NOTE: Many solvent based spotters and pre-conditioners may also cause "water marking", because of their aggressive nature.
  2. VACUUM:
    Always vacuum fabric thoroughly to remove dry soil.
    Avoid standard prespray products, as the solvent content could lead to bleeding or dissolving of water soluble resins and sizings.
    Rinse thoroughly to remove residues and restore the fabric to its original softness and texture.
  5. DRY:
    NEVER OVERWET SILK FABRICS! Speed dry with air movers.

Understanding silk's special characteristics will help you to avoid problems and gain confidence in cleaning silk.

If you'd like to have some guidance on how to discuss the limitations that heavy soiling creates on any delicate, nature fiber fabric, Click Here to download a copy of our Upholstery Condition Report and read over the limitations that exist..

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